Archive for The Fun Stuff

Happy Birthday, Arturo!

Today is Arturo’s 38th birthday. To my husband and best friend,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

 

I am so honored and privileged to call you my own. You’re an incredible father, and Shanti and I both love you very very much. You are the best partner any mother and wife could ask for. I thank the Lord every day for the incredible blessing you are in my life. I love you. May this year be even better than the last!

(Making this year better than last, to to be honest, is going to be kind of hard to do. Our last year was pretty wonderful and will be quite hard to beat! But I have a feeling that what God has in store for us this year will give this year a run for it’s money …. :) )

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The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is sweeping the nation. If you’ve somehow missed it, click here or here for the details (or to donate), but I presume most of you have heard about it. The point is to raise money for ALS research by doing something silly — dumping a bucket of ice water on your head — and then nominating others to do the same. The brother of one of our close friends died from ALS just over a year ago. While we didn’t know him personally, we know from our friend’s experience just how awful this disease is.

I was nominated for the challenge by one of my students earlier this week, and the next day Arturo and Shanti were both nominated by a close friend. We had fun making our videos together. It provided yet another shared family experience we will laugh about for years to come, and this particular shared family experience even benefits a good cause. :) We’ll each be donating in support of ALS research. The people and families afflicted by ALS are worthy of our support, and I pray that the momentum from the Ice Bucket Challenge will bring researchers closer to a cure.

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Jennifer’s Ice Bucket Challenge

Arturo’s Ice Bucket Challenge

Shanti’s Ice Bucket Challenge

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Trip to Fish Land

Last weekend, my younger brother and his wife made the 1.5 hour trip from their house to ours to meet Shanti for the first time. It was a wonderful day! Our main activity was a trip to the Newport Aquarium. If you live in the Cincinnati area and have never been to the aquarium, you really need to go! It was a huge hit with all of us, not just with Shanti. Arturo and I were aquarium members several years ago, but we’d let our membership lapse. Visiting again reminded us why we loved it so much, so we decided to sign up for a family membership this time. :)

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Father & Daughter

 

This is SO COOL!

This is SO COOL!

 

Shanti, Arturo, Britney, and Jason (in the background) examining a fish

Shanti, Arturo, Britney, and Jason (in the background) examining a fish

 

This fish was one of Shanti's favorites!

This fish was one of Shanti’s favorites!

 

Photographing the shark tank

Photographing the shark tank

 

Before the shark show. Sorry for the blue faces -- the lights in this room are all blue, and I couldn't find ANY camera setting that would work!

Before the shark show. Sorry for the blue faces — the lights in this room are all blue, and I couldn’t find ANY camera setting that would work!

 

Peering into an alligator enclosure

Peering into an alligator enclosure

With Uncle Jason and Aunt Britney

With Uncle Jason and Aunt Britney

It's a shark!

It’s a shark!

Shanti and I have already made a daytime trip to the aquarium as part of our homeschooling. The sharks, the jellyfish, and the octopus are probably her favorites. I myself love the penguins. :)

My favorite! :)

My favorite! :)

This Saturday, spent with family and including a joyous trip to the aquarium, was one of the best days we’ve had so far with Shanti. A few weeks ago, we seemed to turn a corner in our relationship with her, and the beautiful incredible can’t-believe-we’re-this blessed days are coming more and more frequently. It’s amazing to see her so happy. She is such a joy. I love this daughter of ours so very much.

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God, I will freely admit you knew exactly what you were doing when you sent us on this journey! Thanks for changing our stubborn hearts and encouraging us to ignore reason and take the leap. I’m so glad we did.

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Turning Twelve

A few weeks ago, on November 19, we were given the most beautiful and previous of gifts: we were allowed to celebrate Shanti’s birthday with her while surrounded by her friends and orphanage siblings. It was a magical day.

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Birthdays are a big deal for the children at Shanti’s former orphanage. It’s the one day of the year when an individual child is celebrated, when a child is singled out and made to feel special and important. Shanti started telling us about her upcoming birthday by our second day with her, and she literally counted down the days. A little girl only turns twelve once, after all, and this little girl knew she would be saying goodbye to all her friends and orphanage siblings very soon. This was a birthday to truly celebrate and enjoy with everything she was worth.

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We weren’t allowed to bring a normal cake because of concerns about ingredients, but candy was fair game. So, inspired by Arturo’s birthday cake made by his aunt Ximena (see here), we crafted a candy cake, complete with marshmallows to hold the candles. It was a huge hit!

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Never fear. The massive amount of sugar in this “cake” was tempered by plenty of fresh fruit and 100% fruit juices. It wasn’t all junk!

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This cake was make from scratch by the orphanage workers. The day before Shanti's birthday, one of the boys in her group sat for several hours and crushed walnuts with a hammer, cracking the shells and pulling out the nutty meat, all of which went into this cake. Shanti's favorite fruits are kiwis and mandarin oranges, so this cake was a big hit.

This cake was make from scratch by the orphanage workers. The day before Shanti’s birthday, one of the boys in her group sat for several hours and crushed walnuts with a hammer, cracking the shells and pulling out the nutty meat, all of which went into this cake. Shanti’s favorite fruits are kiwis and mandarin oranges, so this cake was perfect.

We brought party hats, which were a HUGE hit. We considered bringing noise makers as well, but Arturo’s comment was, “The orphanage workers will hate us!” To which I replied, “Frankly, I would hate us!” So the noise maker idea was nixed.

The teachers decorated the room with balloons and banners, and once homework was finished, the party commenced. We sang happy birthday in both Russian and English, and Shanti’s smile was big enough to light the entire room. Many of the children gave little speeches wishing Shanti the best for her coming year.

You can see a bit of the balloons and party banner over my shoulder in this photo.

You can see a bit of the balloons and party banner over my shoulder in this photo.

This day, perhaps more than any other we spent at the orphanage with Shanti, was a day of straddling two worlds, that of the orphan and that of the family. She vaccillated between celebrating with her friends, the precious children who were her siblings for four years, and running to us in joy, grasping for the new family that she craves.

One of Shanti's best friends giving Shanti a congratulatory speech on her birthday.

One of Shanti’s best friends giving Shanti a congratulatory speech on her birthday.

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Wearing a new hat and scarf set I knit for her in her favorite color, blue.

Wearing a new hat and scarf set I knit for her in her favorite color, blue.

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This day was magical, a day I will treasure forever, but it was also a day that reminds me of the loss inherent in adoption. We are Shanti’s parents today only because her first parents both died. On top of the grief of losing both her parents four years ago, Shanti is now moving thousands of miles away from 14 amazing, incredible, precious children who were her siblings and closest friends for the past four years. To join our family, Shanti must say goodbye to everything and everyone she has ever known and move to a completely new land, learn a new language, and adjust to a new culture. I can’t imagine facing the kind of loss and grief our daughter is going through right now. Adoption is amazing and miraculous, but it is prefaced by a level of tragedy most adults couldn’t even handle. And our daughter is experiencing and grieving for that tragedy right now.

Shanti’s birthday celebration was a juxtaposition of two very different worlds. It was a wonderful celebration of her life with her orphanage family as she prepares to enter her life with her forever family. I am so glad Shanti was able to enjoy her birthday one last time with her orphanage family, as she begins the transition from orphan to daughter.

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Introducing …

It is our immense pleasure to introduce to you our daughter, Shanti Magdalena Araya.

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Shanti Magdalena Araya
Born November 19, 2001
Forever in Our Family December 6, 2013

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Shanti is a spunky, energetic, kind, precious girl, and we are overjoyed to be her parents.

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We are blessed. So very very blessed!

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Family Time in Chile

Warning: Picture-heavy vacation post ahead. If you don’t like vacation blog posts, or if you don’t feel like scrolling through lots of photos, skip this post. I promise I won’t be offended. On the other hand, if picture-heavy vacation posts are the peanut butter to your jelly, read on my friend. :)

As of yesterday, Arturo and I have been home from Chile for two weeks. Two weeks out, I’ve finally had time to sort through all our photos and organize my thoughts from the trip. In a word, it was incredible. We spent almost all day every day visiting with Arturo’s family, getting to know the amazing people who make up his family tree. Though we’ve been married for over five years, I met nearly everyone in his family for the first time on this trip, except for a very select few family members who live in the US. Arturo savored every moment, making up for 13 years of time away. If you’d like my first impressions of our trip, read this post, written just 3 days into our 2.5 week stay.

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The interior ceiling of the Santiago Cathedral

The interior ceiling of the Santiago Cathedral

 

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A statue of Pedro de Valdivia, located in the central square in downtown Santiago

A statue of Pedro de Valdivia, located in the central square in downtown Santiago

One major highlight of our trip was due purely to the timing of the trip: Arturo’s birthday is August 30, smack in the middle of our trip. As a result, he was wined and dined by his family even more than he would have been anyway! He had at least 3 birthday cakes and 3 dedicated birthday parties during our stay …. and I say “at least” only because I lost count after the third. :)

Arturo's first birthday cake, made by Ximena. It was full of Chilean candies and pastries. Delicious!

Arturo’s first birthday cake, made by Ximena. It was full of Chilean candies and pastries. Delicious!

Arturo's final birthday cake (I missed several in between), a "tres leches" (three milk) cake. Tres leches is Arturo's favorite cake flavor, and I always make it for him on his birthday ... except for this year. Luckily, Arturo's family was more than happy to fill in where I couldn't!

Arturo’s final birthday cake (I missed several in between), a “tres leches” (three milk) cake. Tres leches is Arturo’s favorite cake flavor, and I always make it for him on his birthday … except for this year. Luckily, Arturo’s family was more than happy to fill in where I couldn’t.

 

Carola shoved the cake in Arturo's face right after he blew out the candle. hehehe!

Carola shoved the cake in Arturo’s face right after he blew out the candle. hehehe!

 

Arturo with his birthday gift from his father. So beautifully wrapped!

Arturo with his birthday gift from his father. So beautifully wrapped!

 

After a few days getting our bearings in Santiago, we spent nearly a week at the family’s country house in La Quebrada. It’s a quaint little town nestled in the coastal mountains west of Santiago, and the country quietness was enchanting. Arturo’s uncle, Tio Pedro, and his wife Ximena live in the countryhouse year-round, and Arturo’s great-uncle, Tio Queco, and his wife, Tia Yunia, live next door, along with their son Queco. They are such lovely people! Queco, who worked for many years in the US as a fashion stylist, gave us GORGEOUS sweaters for Shawna and Seth that Arturo and I hope to give them on the day we take custody of them, as their very first clothing items that are entirely their own. Such a special gift!

A huge clan! I had no idea how close-knit Arturo's big family is. It was wonderful to meet them all! Back L to R: Gonzalo (Carola's husband), Marcela (Fanky's wife), Fanky (Arturo's brother), Arturo, Arturo's father, Jopi (Arturo's sister), Gus (Arturo's brother), Carola (Arturo's sister), me, Ximena (Pedro's wife). Front L to R: Lolol (Pedro & Ximena's lovely puppy), Pedro (Arturo Sr.'s brother), Helena (Carola's daughter), Pamela (Arturo's stepmother), Antonia (Carola's daughter).

A huge clan! I had no idea how close-knit Arturo’s big family is. It was wonderful to meet them all! Back L to R: Gonzalo (Carola’s husband), Marcela (Fanky’s wife), Fanky (Arturo’s brother), Arturo, Arturo’s father, Jopi (Arturo’s sister), Gus (Arturo’s brother), Carola (Arturo’s sister), me, Ximena (Pedro’s wife). Front L to R: Lolol (Pedro & Ximena’s lovely puppy), Pedro (Arturo Sr.’s brother), Helena (Carola’s daughter), Pamela (Arturo’s stepmother), Antonia (Carola’s daughter).

 

Arturo's father and Tio Enrique cooking a birthday dinner of Chilean BBQ

Arturo’s father and Tio Enrique cooking a birthday dinner of Chilean BBQ

 

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Tio Pedro and Tio Enrique

Tio Pedro and Tio Enrique

 

I love this picture just because of the look on Pedro's face. :)

I love this picture just because of the look on Pedro’s face. :)

 

While everyone was together, we called Alicia, Arturo's sister who lives in the US. She was the only one of Arturo's siblings not there for the family gathering, so it was great to have her join us virtually.

While everyone was together, we called Alicia, Arturo’s sister who lives in the US. She was the only one of Arturo’s siblings not there for the family gathering, so it was great to have her join us virtually.

 

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Gus, in uniform, talking to Alicia.

 

Arturo's brother and sister, Jopi and Fanky, having fun with Helena, Arturo's niece (Carola's little girl)

Arturo’s brother and sister, Jopi and Fanky, having fun with Helena, Arturo’s niece (Carola’s little girl)

 

Jopi and Helena

Jopi and Helena

 

Gus and Pamela

Gus and Pamela

 

Family laughter!

Family laughter!

 

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Queco and me eating empandas. Sooooo yummy!

Queco and I eating empandas. Sooooo yummy!

 

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Tio Guillermo and Arturo

Tio Guillermo and Arturo

 

L to R: Ximena, Queco, Guillermo, Pedro, Arturo, me, Arturo Sr.

L to R: Ximena, Queco, Guillermo, Pedro, Arturo, me, Arturo Sr.

Arturo’s father came to La Quebrada with us, and we spent hours exploring the countryside with him. One afternoon we walked to a creek bed adjacent to the family land, where Arturo played and swam as a child. It was a magical week.

examining the creatures in the stream

examining the creatures in the stream

 

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There were cacti EVERYWHERE. This picture doesn't begin to do the wealth of cacti justice. This was my first time seeing cacti growing wild, and I loved it.

There were cacti EVERYWHERE. This picture doesn’t begin to do the wealth of cacti justice. This was my first time seeing cacti growing wild, and I loved it.

 

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Many of the plants native to Chile are very hostile. The tiny little barbs on this flower are coated in a poison that stings like CRAZY if you even barely touch it. Getting this photo my hand lightly brushed one of the leaves, and my hand was stinging for hours.

Many of the plants native to Chile are very hostile. The tiny little barbs on this flower are coated in a poison that stings like CRAZY if you even barely touch it. While taking this photo, my hand lightly brushed one of the leaves. My hand was stinging for hours.

 

Another hostile plant. You can't tell from this photo, but each of these barbs was about 4 inches long. These spikes grow from a tree that grows everywhere around La Quebrada.

Another hostile plant. You can’t tell from this photo, but each of these barbs was about 4 inches long. These spikes belong to a tree that grows everywhere around La Quebrada.

 

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The bulbs at the top of this cactus leaf are cactus pears, and they are SO GOOD! Yummmmmm.

The bulbs at the top of this cactus leaf are cactus pears, and they are SO GOOD! Yummmmmm.

 

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Avocados growing wild. Yummmm!

Avocados growing wild. Yummmm!

 

We found an almond tree growing wild on one of our walks and picked a few. Arturo's father then found a rock, and we cracked them open to eat on our walk. Delicious!

We found an almond tree growing wild on one of our walks and picked a few. Arturo’s father then found a rock, and we cracked them open to eat on our walk. Delicious!

 

Lemons growing in the yard of the family house. Chilean cuisine uses lots of lemon juice, and lemons from this tree were part of the meals we ate while we were there.

Lemons growing in the yard of the family house. Chilean cuisine uses lots of lemon juice, and lemons from this tree were part of the meals we ate while we were there.

 

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Can you find the frog?

Can you find the frog?

 

The front door of the family house. El Gualicho means "Bewitched."

The front door of the family house. El Gualicho means “Bewitched.”

 

A view of the family house from the bottom of the valley. The house is the small roof you can see in the lower left of the picture. This photo shows just how remote the house is!

A view of the family house from the bottom of the valley. The house is the small roof you can see in the lower left of the picture. This photo shows just how remote the house is!

 

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Eucalyptus trees grow wild in Chile, and we found eucalyptus groves EVERYWHERE. The trees didn't smell too strongly on their own, but scratch a leaf and you could smell the distinctive eucalyptus smell for several feet around that leaf.

Eucalyptus trees grow wild in Chile, and we found eucalyptus groves EVERYWHERE. The trees don’t smell too strongly on their own, but scratch a leaf and you can smell the distinctive eucalyptus scent for several feet around that leaf.

 

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This flower itself didn't have any spikes, but it was growing near a thorny plant, and I got several splinters while trying to get this photograph. I'm not sure the splinters were worth it, but at least the shot came out!

This flower itself didn’t have any spikes, but it was growing near a thorny plant, and I got several thorn splinters while trying to get this photograph. I’m not sure the splinters were worth it, but at least the shot came out!

 

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Las Palmas is a tiny village near La Quebrada, and they have a special shrine for a small statue of the Christ Child, called Niño Dios de las Palmas. We visited the shrine one afternoon, and it was a beautiful shrine and a beautiful little village.

Las Palmas is a tiny village near La Quebrada, and they have a special shrine for a small statue of the Christ Child, called Niño Dios de las Palmas. We visited the shrine one afternoon. It was a beautiful shrine and a beautiful little village.

 

From La Quebrada, Arturo and I made a quick daytrip on our own to Viña and Valparaiso on the coast before heading back to spend our last week in Santiago. Valparaiso is a World Heritage Site, and with good reason. It is a breathtakingly beautiful city. One afternoon wandering the picturesque streets wasn’t nearly enough, and we’ve already made plans to spend much more time there on our next trip to Chile. Since we knew we had limited time available, we chose our stops carefully. Arturo’s family vacationed in Viña and Valparaiso every summer when he was growing up, so we made sure to visit sites he remembers. We walked on the “beach,” which is mostly rocky except for in a few specific spots but is no less beautiful for being so rocky. We explored the city’s many hills and took in the beautiful city vistas that were just waiting to be enjoyed. We ended the day perched on rocks on the beach, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. It was my first time to see the Pacific Ocean and also my first ocean sunset. Incredible.

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Valparaiso has beautiful murals throughout the city.

Valparaiso has beautiful murals throughout the city.

 

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Valparaiso has elevator inclines all over the city, and we took several as we were walking around the city. The cemetery in the background of this photo is the military cemetery in which Arturo's grandfather is buried.

Valparaiso has elevator inclines all over the city, and we rode several as we made our way around the city. The cemetery in the background of this photo is the military cemetery in which Arturo’s grandfather is buried.

 

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The rocky "beach"

The rocky “beach”

 

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Even the sandy parts of the beach have rocks everywhere.

Even the sandy parts of the beach have rocks everywhere.

 

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I love the reflection of the sunset in Arturo's sunglasses.

I love the reflection of the sunset in Arturo’s sunglasses.

 

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After the sunset, we went to Tavelli, a coffee shop Arturo loved as a child. This drink is a very sweet iced coffee drink that's usually only drunk by kids in Chile, and the waiter gave Arturo a very strange look when he ordered it. But he loved it as a child and wanted it despite the odd looks. It was just as good as he remembered.

After the sunset, we went to Tavelli, a coffee shop Arturo loved as a child. This drink is a very sweet iced coffee drink that’s usually only drunk by kids in Chile, and the waiter gave Arturo a very strange look when he ordered it. But he loved it as a child and wanted it despite the odd looks. It was just as good as he remembered.

 

Our last week in Chile was spent in Santiago visiting as many family members as possible. Some days we had breakfast with one group of family members, went to lunch with another, had “once” (the Chilean version of British tea) with yet another, and finished out the night by enjoying dinner with a fourth group of family members. It was a hectic schedule. My introverted personality was a bit overwhelmed and craved alone time during that week, but I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. We had precious little time in Chile, and we knew we had to pack as much as possible into the time we had. We ate more delicious food than we thought possible, enjoying every bit of it, and the people … oh the people! Arturo’s family is so warm and welcoming and friendly! I couldn’t have asked for a better first meeting with the many people who are so important to Arturo and who shaped the man he is today.

Arturo with his grandmother, Abuelita Fanny

Arturo with his grandmother, Abuelita Fanny

 

Arturo, Abuelita Fanny, and Tio Enrique

Arturo, Abuelita Fanny, and Tio Enrique

 

Back L to R: Tia Gloria, Tio Enrique, Soledad (Arturo's cousin), Enrique (Arturo's cousin), Arturo's Father. Front: Arturo & me

Back L to R: Tia Gloria, Tio Enrique, Soledad (Arturo’s cousin), Enrique (Arturo’s cousin), Arturo’s Father. Front: Arturo & me

 

Soledad and Gloria writing in the front of the book they gave Arturo for his birthday. It will be a treasured gift for generations!

Soledad and Gloria writing in the front of the book they gave Arturo for his birthday. It will be a treasured gift for generations!

 

Tio Chago and Tia Patricia with Arturo

Tio Chago and Tia Patricia with Arturo

 

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Tio Chago picked this gorgeous camellia for me from their front yard before we left. He is such a gentleman!

Tio Chago picked this gorgeous camellia for me from their front yard before we left. He is such a gentleman!

 

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After dinner one evening, we had an impromptu musical session. Jopi is a great guitar player!

After dinner one evening, we had an impromptu musical session. Jopi is a great guitar player!

 

Helena wanted to play, too. :)

Helena wanted to play, too. :)

 

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Arturo and his father. I took this photo about 2 minutes before we climbed on the airport bus to head back to Cincinnati.

Arturo and his father. I took this photo about 2 minutes before we climbed on the airport bus to begin our journey back to Cincinnati.

 

Our last picture in Chile from this trip. Taken in the airport just a few minutes before boarding our flight. Until next time!

Our last picture in Chile from this trip. Taken in the airport just a few minutes before boarding our flight. Until next time!

 

We left Chile on Sept. 2 and arrived back home in Cincinnati the next morning, tired and worn out but filled to the brim with the love of family. It was a wonderful trip, and while the timing of the trip with our adoption could have been better, I’m so glad we went. Arturo’s family is amazing, and I’m blessed to have met them.

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